I Reject Your Reality And Substitute My Own
(The title of this post comes from Mythbusters)
Today I continue my posts on criticism and how to deal with it.
From my last post: Join me next time in which I discuss how much weight to give people's opinions. Not all crits are created equal, and some people really DON'T get it. (I'm referring here to the person who didn't "get" a vampire story of mine. "Why does he drink blood?" really isn't a valid question there.)
What am I talking about here? Well….
This is FAQ#12 on my FAQ page. I'll quote it for you here so you don't even have to click:
FAQ#12 Will you read my stuff and tell me what you think?
A: You just called me a bitch! No!
This is called "asking for a crit," and it's something I very, very rarely do. Please do not send me long e-mails telling me why you should be the exception. I don't know you, and an introduction isn't going to be enough.
To be honest, I'm simply too busy working to offer criticism. That's right ... writing is what I do - you know, my job - so it's "work." Just because it's what I love to do most in the world doesn't make it "work" sometimes. Especially during revision.
Besides, why would you want my opinion anyway? No matter what I say, writing is between a person and their work. It's a feeling, a driving need, and you're going to do it because that's what you need to do, and you're not going to let anyone or anything stop you.
What I think of your work isn't important. Find yourself a good beta reader or seven and give your work to them. Someone not your mom or best friend. There's critical feedback available out there. Just be careful about writing groups. They can be dangerous in a lot of ways.
If you're going to query with something you've worked on, please have more than one opinion behind what you've written than those of people who know and love you. People, however honest, have a bias toward people they love and don’t want to hurt their feelings. You, as a writer, however tough you think you are, will take criticism badly – it's just what's going to happen.
It's your REACTION to that criticism that's the thing. If you throw a tantrum and bitch the critiquer out, they not only will NOT crit for you again, you'll invalidate their opinion by default because they said something bad about your work. If you give them the silent treatment, same thing.
It all comes down to basic politeness/manners. When you ask someone to crit for you, you're asking them for two things – their time, and their honest opinion.
Think about that for a moment. Remember what we learned in school about the difference between FACTS and OPINIONS? A "fact" is something provable. For instance, I can look at a manuscript and say, for a fact, that a sentence needs a comma, or a period, or that the subject and verb disagree, or whatever. Those are facts. I can also look at a manuscript and say, "This heroine is flat, and she whines all the time. She needs to get a life!"
That would be my opinion. Most people won't share that, because each person has their own tastes. For instance, Frank Herbert's DUNE series. I try at least once a year to get through it, and I just can't. I despise everything about the book. The 1984 Kyle MacLachlan movie? OH HELL YES. Yes, please! Soundtrack by Toto, hot men in leather…yeah. Totally yeah. In fact, I think I just found my movie for vegging out today on this American holiday (it's Independence Day, for those who don't celebrate it – also known as "Yay We Got Rid Of You Sodding Lot of Nutters" Day in the UK).
Again, that's my opinion. Many people hate the movie. Many people love the book, and vice versa.
In your writing, you need to learn the difference between critical feedback and criticism. One is useful. The other is just someone's (usually negative) opinion.
You need to decide how much weight to give someone's opinion. You mom, your brother, your spouse/significant other, your best friend who has known you all your life? Probably not the best people to offer you constructive crit on your work. Another writer, a writing partner, an English major? Okay, maybe. Writer's groups? Careful there. Online groups where you post snippets of your WIP for random people to offer crit? WARNING! WARNING!
Now, after you've decided how much weight to give someone's crit (to put it bluntly, if they actually know what the fuck they're talking about or are just pulling shit out of their ass), you need to decide how to cope with the crit if it's not glowing. (Here's a hint – it won't be. Ever. Not your first draft, not your tenth. Accept this now.) Scream, cry, throw a tantrum, drink yourself stupid – whatever you want. However you want to cope. IN PRIVATE. Do this PRIVATELY. (Unless, you know, you want to ruin your writing career by being an unprofessional douchebag no one is ever going to work with. EVER.)
Then, when you're ready (however long it takes you to bounce back - for some this is hours, for others it's months), go look at that crit again and see if you agree with it. Separate fact from opinion. Get more than one opinion. I can't stress this enough. Not everyone's opinions are the same. Harry Potter was rejected 13 times before it was accepted. If J.K. Rowling had taken those rejections as gospel, she'd have never had her series.
Now, if you get three different opinions and they ALL say "the character is flat and whiny," there might be a reason for it. If the three different opinions ALL say, "you know, this scene where XYZ happens just doesn't work," it might be something to look at.
As I said before, not all opinions are created equal. Negative feedback/reviews suck, but that's just a fact of the writing life. You're not going to please everybody, and you shouldn't try to.
Nor should you take everyone's word as gospel just because they read your stuff. I mean, there was that one person who didn't get why my vampire drank blood.
Um…because he's a vampire?
Doesn't take a genius there to figure that out. I mean, it was a story in a book with the word VAMPIRE right in the title. You'd think they'd have figured out why all the stories in the book had vampires in them. There was another person who actually bitched,/em> about the fact that all the stories had vampires in them. Um…yeah…. It's a VAMPIRE ANTHOLOGY.
What kind of weight should I give that person's opinion? Should I go back and rewrite the entire thing so that the vampire in the story isn't a vampire?
That would kind of defeat the purpose of it being a vampire story for a vampire anthology, wouldn't it?
That's all for now. Next time we'll talk about handling rejections and the critical feedback some of them contain. (Some are form rejections, which have value in themselves. Tune in next time for my take on that.)